What has the song "First Cut Is The Deepest" got to do with political sentiments in Malaysia?
That was my precise thought when a rather inebriated guest singer proudly made references to his ethnicity and the recently concluded Umno (United Malays National Organisation) general assembly before and after his rendition of the song at a popular local pub on Sunday.
For those who are unfamiliar with the 47-year-old tune, it sums up the anxiety of entering a new romantic relationship while still suffering from the hurt of one’s first love.
Most people associate it with British rock icon Rod Stewart, but the poignant song was written by Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, in 1965.
Stevens, born Steven Demetre Georgiou, composed it when he was still a struggling songwriter and sold it for 30 pounds (US$46.93 ) to P.P. Arnold, a former Ike and Tina Turner backup singer, who turned it into a hit in 1967.
Cover versions by Keith Hamp¬shire and Sheryl Crow also became huge hits, but Stewart’s classic interpretation remains the most renowned.
What was the song’s connection to the Chinese community and not being understood by Umno, as the guest singer said after his three minutes on stage? I was left wondering, too.
Perhaps it was yet another manifestation of the pervasive political atmosphere in the country today.
It is scary, but everything in Malaysia is somehow associated with politics and the overbearing anger and hatred it begets is stifling.
As expected, last week’s Umno general assembly provided more fodder for the ill will to go on.
Party president and prime mi¬¬nister Najib Razak has come under fire for declaring that the Sedition Act would not only remain but would be strengthened.
His detractors are denouncing it as a “flip-flop”, but the decision clearly had the support of the party, which secured 88 of Barisan Nasional’s 133 seats in the 13th general election last year – one short of the total of 89 won by Pakatan Rakyat parties.
It is true that Umno needs to go beyond its Malay heartland base and gain support in the urban areas to remain relevant, but only the politically naive would expect a leader to go against the tide of the grassroots.
In any case, whatever Najib does has never been right in the eyes of those opposed to his leadership. It has always been the case of damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
Much has been said and written about the assembly, but for someone who has observed such gatherings for three decades, it was a rather tame affair.
Sure, there were some heated moments, the expected venting of communal frustrations, the usual clownish remarks and attempts at bashing a particular community, but Najib and his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin drummed home some pertinent points at the end of it.
Muhyiddin brought home the stark reality that Barisan, which lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in the 12th general election, could be ousted from Putrajaya with just a loss of 2 per cent support in the next polls.
Amidst the rhetoric, Najib sent the most important message – Umno needs the support of the other races to remain in power – stressing that this was why Tunku Abdul Rahman formed the Alliance, which evolved into Barisan Nasional under Abdul Razak.
A close friend, a retired politician who has served as a Member of Parliament for two terms, said such assurances might do little to sway diehard supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, but had restored a semblance of hope among those who want to see the return to rational politics in the country.
Both sides of the political divide have to pull back from digging deeper trenches separating Malaysians from each other.
The rational and moderate among us must remind political leaders and their supporters that there is more to life than trading insults and perpetuating endless hatred.
Malaysians must be made to realise that politics has always been about battles between competing interests and attempts to balance partial truths.
Instead of looking at the complex perspectives involved, we are constantly drawn into the partisan hate through simplistic beliefs about being right and wrong, or good versus evil.
With today’s digital technology and widespread use of social media, it is even easier for those bent on stirring discord to get quick and extensive coverage.
In the old days, rookie journalists were reminded that just because somebody says something shocking it would not mean that it was news.
Not anymore. Any rabble-rouser for a small and insignificant group can now manipulate the media into getting ample attention by making incendiary remarks.
But there is a limit to how much political rancour and hate people can stomach.
Even in countries where two party systems of democracies are practised, voters are being turned off by the intense politicking, especially when there is no difference between the parties when it comes to corruption or standard of governance.
As a result of this aversion, what is being referred to as “anti-politics” is very much in the air in Europe.
The United Kingdom’s 64-year-old Political Studies Association has set up an Anti-Politics and De-Politicisation Specialist Group dedicated to providing a forum for researchers examining the trend.
According to the group, “anti-politics” appears to have marginalised political debates, taken power away from elected politicians and fostered an air of disengagement, disaffection and disinterest in politics.
The way politics is being played in Malaysia, I wouldn’t mind a dose of it here.
M. Veera Pandiyan, The Star/ANN, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia